About This Artwork

Charles Wilbert White
American, 1918-1979

Harvest Talk, 1953

Charcoal, Wolff's carbon drawing pencil, and graphite, with stumping and erasing on ivory wood pulp laminate board
661 x 992 mm

Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hartman, 1991.126

© The Charles White Archives

Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Charles White was awarded a scholarship to study art at the School of the Art Institute in 1937. Early in his career White was committed to representing the African American experience, a goal reinforced after he journeyed to the rural South and encountered the prejudice and brutality of segregation first hand. The powerful drawing Harvest Talk depicts two farm hands whose strong and imposing physical presence embody the dignity of their work.



Charles White is recognized for the richness of his graphic work and his paintings, which typically depict aspects of the history, culture, and life of African Americans. A native of Chicago, White attended the School of the Art Institute, the Art Students League of New York, and later the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico. Beginning in 1939, he was employed by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration.

White’s father was a railroad and steel worker and his mother was a domestic worker; thus, he had a deep respect for labor. Harvest Talk, one of six charcoal and carbon pencil drawings originally exhibited at ACA Galleries in New York in 1953, exemplifies the artist’s mature drawing style. Here his strong, assured manner, coupled with the heroic proportions of the figures and the emphasis on the large scythe (an emblem often associated with the Soviet Union)—as well as the social realist sensibilities that prevail throughout his oeuvre, his travels to the U.S.S.R., and his writings for and affiliation with left-wing publications such as Masses & Mainstream, Freedomways, and the Daily Worker—suggest that Harvest Talk was inspired by socialist ideals. Like many of White’s works on paper, it conveys the power of a mural, despite its relatively small format.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 327.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Gifts of Twentieth-Century Works on Paper to the Permanent Collection," July 16, 1993–January 23, 1994, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Since the Harlem Renaissance: Sixty Years of African American Art," May 18–August 25, 1996, checklist 5.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "A Century of Collecting: African-American Art in the Art Institute of Chicago," February 12–May 2003, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Great American Drawings," March 18–June 19, 2006, no cat.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Collecting for Chicago: Prints, Drawings, and Patronage," June 14-September 14, 2008.

Publication History

John Pittman, “The Art of Charles White: He Combats the Racists’ Ideas,” The Worker (March 1, 1953), p. 14.

“Charles White: America’s Most Celebrated Negro Artist,” Sepia 11:5 (May 1962), pp. 6–7 (ill.).

Benjamin Horowitz, Images of Dignity: The Drawings of Charles White (Los Angeles, 1969), p. 56 (ill.).

Lynn Moody Igoe, 250 Years of Afro-American Art, An Annotated Bibliography (R.R. Bowker, 1981), p. 1211.

“African Americans in Art,” Museum Studies 24:2 (1999), pp. 206–207, fig. 17.

James N. Wood and Debra Mancoff, Treasures from the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, 2000), p. 292

Andrew Hemingway, Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926–1956 (New Haven, Conn., 2002), pp. 263–64, fig. 188.

Andrea Barnwell, Charles White, David C. Driskell Series of African American Art 1 (Pomegranate, 2002), pp. 56 and 58, pl. 21.

The Essential Guide (Chicago, 2009), p. 313 (ill.).

Judith A. Barter et al., "American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago, From World War I to 1955," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 138.

Ownership History

From the artist to A.C.A. Galleries, New York, 1953; sold to Max and Lorraine Gordon, New York, 1953; sold, Derrick Joshua Beard Fine Arts, Chicago to the Art Institute, 1991.




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